Godless Faith

May 16, 2006 | By | 6 Replies More

Does one need faith to believe in God?  Or God in order to have faith?  Are the two necessarily tied together, inextricably?

Faith is a process.  (What I refer to here is not the kind of FAITH that has a set of requirements in order to claim, visa vis the Moral Majority, etc., but the function of believing in an efficacy of being and action that preceeds proof.)  One must simply accept a whole slew of things on faith in order to function.  You have to have faith that your heart will keep beating, that the words you use will be understood by other people, that you have a reason to interact with humanity, that there is a purpose in the things you do, that the claims made by others are not inimical to your existence, well-being, etc etc.  It is absurd to demand proof of all these prior to discovering them to be true. 

Once we discover them to be true, though, faith goes on autopilot and we rely on habit.

In religion, this arrangement is short-circuited by the total lack of evidence in what is being held as true.  And, furthermore, the epistemological argument is made that this is the only way it can be–that the faith being exercised would somehow be invalidated should evidence or proof ever be found or given.  (In a way, this is the same as claiming that if proof of God’s existence were made, then the faithful would have to assume that they’d been believing in the wrong God.  This also has elements of the absurd about it.)

People believe in all sorts of things that get them through the day.  They have faith in the basic goodness of their fellow humans (often with ample contrary evidence); they have faith that the air they breathe will not kill them (also, sometimes, despite evidence to the contrary); they have faith in their ability to navigate the maze of human interaction to enrich both themselves and their fellow beings’ lives.  All sorts of things.  They have faith that when the light turns green, the cross traffic has a red light and will stop. 

They have faith that life is worth living.

Obviously this is a generalization.  But you take my meaning.  What results is a basic set of assumptions that gets modified on a case by case basis.  Experience molds the perception, hones it, teaches us how best to deploy our faith.

I have faith in other processes.  But by and large, my faith is conditional. 

This is what separates the committed theist from the atheist.  The theist possesses unconditional faith, which, depending on how that faith is arranged with respect to the universe, can lead the theist into a direct conflict with reality.

The problem is one of inclusiveness.  The Faithful asserts–and insists–that everything is a consequence of God, God’s actions, God’s will.  When evidence is found to refute the requirement for a deity in a specific area (this is where scientific inquiry comes in) the reaction is first one of  presuming the conclusion drawn from evidence is, in fact, inconclusive, and then an attempt to fold that evidence into a suite of presumptions that this, too, is somehow the work of a deity.  When it becomes clear that the latter is not the case, attempts to undermine and refute the evidence itself proceed, leading, in the most extreme cases, to the assertion of counter evidence which does not hold up to scrutiny (i.e. Intelligent Design).  Along the way, other examples of evidence to support the theistic view are found and thrust into the debate as if they represent a legitimate counterargument valid on the same basis (i.e. the Shroud of Turin).  When these, too, are demonstrated to be insupportable, the final argument is based on morality, which, it is asserted, comes from faith in the deity.

Faith, obviously, is transferrable.  It does not, as history shows, flow from a deity to humans, but is clearly self-created and embraced.  It is not the break point between a view of the universe with a God and one without.  But the stakes placed on it by the theist are clearly high and we must ask why.

In an earlier post I pointed out that the debate between the fundamentalists and the evolutionists is central.  I refer back to that one for the details, but it boils down to a question of primacy of the species.  In all other regards, the theist (as a generalization) is looking for a basis on which to build a suite of behaviors that may be described as moral.  The assertion is made that there can be no morality without God.  But clearly the identity of that God is less important than the use of it as a symbol by which one may require communal obeissance, and that is where the crux of the issue rests.  This is a behavioral issue for many.

At the core of the fundamentalist argument is the belief (based on faith?) that without God we would automatically devolve into mindless brutes.  Yet this is an assumption based on a solid history of humans acting as mindless brutes whether they believe in a God or not–the insertion of Faith (capital F) doesn’t seem to make any difference other than to give certain individuals or groups a tool with which to beat up on people identified as “outside” the prefered group.  It all comes down to behavior modification from an authority presumably unassailable by ordinary human means–i.e. God.  (Can’t put God on the witness stand, can’t indict him, or issue a subpoena–can’t, in fact, put questions directly at all.)

One can ask questions of the universe, and one can get answers back.  It’s called science and over time we have, through experience, built up a convincing argument that the universe works This Way, not That Way.  True, we take it on faith largely, but it;s the kind of faith that we have always used–faith based on evidence, that, given X, then Y.  It’s the kind of faith that allows, furthermore, for the possibility of being wrong.  Such faith need never vanish, and it will not, properly applied, be an impediment.  Asserting that the Godless have no faith–or that, in fact, they have faith, which they deny is faith, as evidence that (because they have faith) there is a God of some kind instilling it–is a false syllogism, and a red herring.  It’s beside the point.

The argument is over whether those fairies opening the flowers are real.  We can all, Theist and Atheist, have faith that the flowers will open in the spring.

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About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (6)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    In Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason rule Our Minds (1994), M.P. Palmarini writes:

    “There is psychological law that has been endlessly confirmed, even among professionals and experts, among doctors, psychiatrists, judges, teachers . . . and so forth: When someone is convinced of a positive correlation, however illusory that correlation can objectively be shown to be, that person will always find new confirmations and justify why it should be so . . . [W]e are naturally and spontaneously verifiers rather than falsifiers.”

    We constantly seek confirmation of our own hypotheses, because we are anchored to them and overconfident in them. The confirmation bias consists of the tendency to seek out evidence which confirms rather than contradicts current beliefs.

    This could explain why people with religious Faith cling to that faith despite lack of evidentiary support. Their model of Realty causes them to swat away contrary evidence and to embellish supporting evidence.

    But, come on! A big Fellow in the sky who threatens you with hell? This, in the context of all those other thousands of religions each claiming to be the "one true religion"? Shouldn't that give one pause? How does such a model ever get off the ground?

    Apparently, that's why we "get'm while they're young" and burn it in good. Even this doesn't explain the millions of ADULTS, all of them skeptical regarding MOST things, who suddenly abandon self-criticism to find completeness in an old incomplete and self-contradictory set of writings.

    I must admit that many of these people seem to be leading quite happy and productive lives. From my "external" viewpoint, those seem to be some mighty powerful fairies! I'd like to experience their mindset just for a few minutes, just to better appreciate what is going on, but that just seems impossible for a skeptical evidence-based being like me.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a great example of attempting "to undermine and refute the evidence":

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/carbon_d

    Did you know that ALL of the scientific evidence "is consistent with Earth itself being only thousands of years old, as a straightforward reading of the Bible would suggest."

    This is yet another example of a group absessing about the little "gaps" in a rigorous scientific world and ignoring the huge gaps in the willy-nilly world of ancient religious literature (e.g., ignoring why there is a 40 year gap following the alleged death of Jesus, where nothing is written about the miracles and teaching of the "famous" Jesus of Galilea, even by Christian authors?).

  3. Jason Rayl says:

    The error is one of assumption, of course. There IS no "straightforward reading" of the Bible. The obvious "gaps" are suggested by the presence–unexplained–of "Mrs. Cain." But earlier than that, the one insurmountable error–if one is inclined to accept any part of the Creation story in Genesis–is in assuming a very short span of time between the creation of Eve and the so-called Fall. There is no mention of a time period, even if one takes the initial Six Day part at face value. God may having been wandering through Eden with Adam and Eve for several hundred thousand, or million, or billion years.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    This is in reply to Jason's comment about the "insurmountable error of assuming a very short span of time between the creation of Eve and the so-called Fall." I think this example comes from my post titled, "God's Attractive Nuisance: The Tree of Knowledge," found here:
    http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=166

    Yes, Jason is correct, the Bible is silent concerning the time frame, but it's a bit unfair to say it is an "insurmountable error" to assume the timespan was short. Consider the following:

    1) The first mention of Eve being Adam's wife occurs in the very last sentence of Genesis 2, and the serpent is introduced in the very first sentence of Genesis 3.

    2) Not one word is mentioned anywhere in the Bible about what happened between Eve becoming Adam's wife and the serpent appearing in the Garden to tempt Eve.

    3) Genesis contains many other details about God's activities in Eden, so why would He have neglected to mention eons spent "wandering through Eden with Adam and Eve?" God is a mighty self-important chap, so it would seem out of character for Him to not give us a few exciting stories.

    4) Wouldn't such details also be extremely important for God to include in the Bible, to help illustrate the wonderful relationship He had with humans before the serpent messed things up?

    5) Indeed, given how much God supposedly wants us all to go to heaven, and given that heaven is supposedly exactly like Eden was before the so-called Fall, doesn't it seem odd that God would not drop us a few details about all the fun he had with Adam and Eve before the Fall? Details about his wanderings with Adam and Eve would seem to be essential for illustrating what God means by His promise of "eternal life" in heaven; indeed, nowhere else in the Bible is there a better opportunity for God to tell us what day-to-day life with Him will be like in heaven.

    In sum, I still agree that saying the timeframe was short is an assumption, but I disagree that it is an "insurmountable error." To the contrary, a short timeframe is not only consistent with what the Bible says, it is also *more consistent* with what the Bible says than is any contrary assumption.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    All this talk about the proper time-frame for the "good ole' days," when people were free to wander around heaven, eating most any fruit, talking to the snake! This question of how long Adam and Eve were welcome guests up there reminds me of the following quote by George Bernard Shaw:

    Heaven: "a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside."

  6. Jason Rayl says:

    In response to grumpypilgrim's observation about the fairness of my claim that the timespans in the Adam and Eve story is an "insurmountable error". The error is not the problem of the text but the problem of first asserting that the text is infallible and then inserting "fact" where none is stated. The insurmountable error is on the part of the fundie who "reads into" the Bible what is not, in fact, there, and then uses that non-statement as God's own word on the subject, to prove a point in opposition to both the scientific evidence to the contrary AND the believer who understands that much of the Bible is allegory, not to be taken literally, is, in point of fact, to be INTERPRETTED.

    Sorry for being unclear.

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